The top-flight English football season gets underway when Arsenal and Chelsea square off in the FA Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday (2pm live on ITV).
Arsenal booked their place in the traditional campaign opener by winning last season’s FA Cup with a 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the final. It was the third time they had lifted the trophy in the last four seasons but did little to quell calls for change at the club.
Arsene Wenger does, however, remain in charge for a 22nd season as Arsenal manager, despite the club’s failure to secure a top-four finish last season and therefore miss out on Champions League football for the first time in 20 years. He needs a strong start to the season if he is to calm supporter unrest and lay the foundations for a successful campaign.
The off-season has been relatively quiet at the Emirates and there may not be further movement until the future of Alexis Sanchez has been resolved. The Chilean forward scored 24 goals and provided 10 assists in the Premier League last season but could be on his way, with Bayern Munich and Manchester City among the interested parties.
Arsenal have paid a club-record £46.5 million to bring in powerful forward Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon in a move that feels like a pre-empting of Sanchez’s departure. In addition, the free transfer signing of Sead Kolasinac looks a shrewd one given the shift to a three-man defence with wing-backs that they made towards the end of last season.
There has, however, been little in their summer dealings to date to suggest that Arsenal are well-positioned to get back into the top four. They are yet to add to a midfield that lacked creativity during Santiago Cazorla’s injury absence last season, while it looks like defensive improvements will have to come from better organisation of currently available resources.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be counted out on Sunday in a fixture in which they always seem to perform well. Arsenal are the third most successful team in the history of the Community Shield, with 14 triumphs, and have lifted the trophy in each of their last two appearances in the competition, including a 1-0 victory over Chelsea in 2015.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have lost out in each of their last three (and in four of their last five) appearances in the Community Shield. While Antonio Conte is a very competitive character, he would almost certainly trade defeat on Sunday for another strong campaign in the league.
The Italian helped Chelsea to last season’s Premier League title in his first year at the helm but knows he faces a tougher situation this time around. The Blues did not have European football to contend with last season and secured the title with a small squad that had featured just 16 different starters prior to the celebratory league finale against Watford.
With Champions League football on the agenda this time around, Conte has made it clear that his squad will need to be strengthened.
Chelsea have already laid out around £125 million on new signings but that has primarily been in response to completed or imminent departures. Alvaro Morata has come in from Real Madrid to replace last season’s top scorer Diego Costa, Tiemoue Bakayoko has joined from Monaco in place of Nemanja Matic, while former Roma centre-back Antonio Rudiger will provide additional cover following the release of John Terry.
There are a couple of loan returnees who will hope to force their way into contention, most notably strong centre-back Andreas Christensen, but more signings are still expected prior to the closure of the transfer window at the end of August. Only then will it be possible to fully gauge Chelsea’s ability to compete on multiple fronts and they are only second favourites with the bookies in their Premier League betting.
Our Community Shield Preview’s Betting Tips
Conte’s side cruised to a 3-0 victory over Arsenal in a pre-season encounter in Beijing, with Michy Batshuayi scoring twice, but they have a number of absentees for Sunday’s match which could hand the slight edge to the Gunners. Bakayoko, Eden Hazard and Pedro are all likely to miss out, while Conte has suggested that Morata is also unlikely to start.
The Community Shield is generally a relatively open affair and goals can again be expected this time around given that last season’s three competitive fixtures between Arsenal and Chelsea all delivered three or more goals. With that in mind, Arsenal to win by the odd goal in three or more seems a solid bet. So our Community Shield preview’s betting tips are: